Bills aimed at making the internet safer for children and young people have recently been introduced across the United States. Dozens of bills have been introduced in the past few months, including in Utah, Arkansas, Texas, Maryland, Connecticut and New York. Among parents in particular, they are at least partly a response to concerns about the potential negative effects of social media on children’s mental health.
However, the content of these bills varies greatly from state to state. Some want to protect their privacy while others may want to erode it. Some may have a chilling effect on the ability to speak freely online. There is a good chance that most measures will face legal challenges, and some may not even be enforceable. And collectively, these bills will fragment an already deeply fractured regulatory landscape across the US.
The situation is very messy and complicated. But beneath the surface, there are some important debates shaping how tech is regulated in the US. Let me go through the three main arguments.
First, most bills address children’s privacy rights online. However, while some seek to increase privacy protection, others eat away. And while these bills make good sense, that doesn’t mean they’re currently workable. California’s age-appropriate design code, which was passed last August and will take effect in July 2024, seeks to limit the collection of information from users under 18. It also works for social media companies to review how they use children’s personal information in content recommendation systems. . The law requires websites to estimate the age of users, although it is complicated, something many platforms do for advertising purposes. Social media companies oppose the law and have filed a lawsuit against the state of California on several grounds.
On the other hand, laws in Utah and Arkansas require social media companies to accurately verify the age of all users, creating entirely new verification methods and raising questions about privacy. Both laws have passed, but social media companies and privacy advocates are fighting against them. They say the laws are unconstitutional, and this fight will likely end up in court. Utah law also requires social media platforms to provide features that allow a parent or guardian to access the accounts and private messages of users under the age of 18.
Second, the bills are fueling the debate over parental control. Bills in Utah and Arkansas require children under 18 to obtain parental consent before creating social media accounts. Utah’s law goes even further, requiring parents to give permission for children to access social networking sites between 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., though it’s unclear how the law will be enforced when it passes in March 2024. It showed that children can easily find the age requirements online. And the amount of parental control varies by state and age. A proposed Connecticut bill, for example, would require children under the age of 16 to get their parents’ permission to create social media accounts.
and finally, The bills have major problems with youth’s right to speak and access to information. Some states impose clear restrictions: a proposed child welfare bill in Texas, for example, would try to prevent minors from accessing information that could lead to eating disorders. It is not yet clear what this type of information might be. But in most other states, the bans are more vague, which could prompt social media companies to remove content for fear of prosecution, said the vice president for policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology. In Washington, D.C., in other words, these laws can have a chilling effect on what people say and do online.